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No matter how you write it, skating's Yuna Kim spells greatness

March 30, 2009 | 10:24 am


(Fans of South Korea's Yuna Kim show their transliterated support at the world championships while fans of Japan's Mao Asada do it in Japanese characters. Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

I had a nice e-mail from a South Korean reader who suggested that the phonetic — or transliterated — spelling being used in English for his country's great figure skating star, Kim Yu-Na, was incorrect.

He said it should be Kim Yun-A or Kim Yeon-A because it is as much a pronunciation issue as a spelling issue, and there should not be a break after the "u'' sound.

I replied that the English-language media have taken the Yu-Na spelling from the way her name is listed by the International Skating Union.

But I figured it was time to do a little more research to make sure I respect Korean culture by getting it right, especially since I will be writing and saying this young woman's name frequently between now and the 2010 Olympics, where she will be a gold medal favorite based on her performances in winning the world title last week in Los Angeles.

First of all, I have chosen to write it with the family name (Kim) first because that is the Korean manner: family name, then given name. That also is the case in Chinese, but I eventually wrote the name of Chinese figure skating world champion Chen Lu as Lu Chen because she told U.S. media that was her preference for English usage.

I called the South Korean consulate in Chicago to check on the correct way to write Kim's given name, and this is what Lee Eun (who signed her e-mail Eun Lee) told me:

"According to her official website, the preferred spelling of her name is 'Yuna.'  Your reader was correct  in pointing out the subtle differences between 'Kim Yu-Na'  and 'Kim Yun-A'  (or 'Yeon-A') because her Korean name is pronounced 'Gim Yuhn Ah.' ''

(That pronunciation has a hard "G,'' like "gimmick,'' and a short "u,'' like "un.'')

"Having said that,''  Lee's e-mail continued, "Ms. Kim is a world-class athlete who is competing on an international level and may have made a conscious choice to make her name . . . easier for foreigners to understand and remember. The ISU lists her name as 'Yu-Na Kim' and so does NBC. I doubt it would have been written as such without the consent of her team.''

The same could apply to the order of the names, Lee said, suggesting it might be better to avoid confusion by putting the given name first.

So what would Ms. Lee's personal choice be for English use of her countrywoman's name?

"Yuna Kim.''

OK by me.

Now let's see if I can get everyone else to go along.

But, as Shakespeare might have said, a Yuna by another name, like Yu-Na or Yun-A, would skate as great.

— Philip Hersh